ourteen years ago, seventy men and women gathered in the small town of Muncy, Texas, surely between the cotton fields. On that day, the Texas Alliance of Water Conservation program was implemented.
During this first meeting, nine producers were elected into office by their peers for a program led by producers, for producers. The TAWC had just received the first round of funding a few weeks before, but only after getting producers in the South Plains area interested in the idea for the program.
Rick Kellison, the project director for the TAWC, originally ran a cow/calf operation where he only grazed on drought tolerant forages.
“He had always been concerned with water conservation. When Senator Robert Duncan started writing the grant, it only made sense to bring in Kellison.”
Today, the idea has grown into something much bigger than just gathering information from a few producers. The program has turned into an outreach and education endeavor that is reaching people all over the world. When the program originally started, it included two counties. In 2014 when TAWC received a second round of funding, allowing it to expand to nine counties all within a 150-mile radius of Lubbock, Texas.
The TAWC team that meets on a monthly basis, has broken up the project into eight sections and has a task leader for each. One of those section includes an outreach and education program led by the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at Texas Tech University, but is connected to multiple programs in the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources.
Rudy Ritz is a professor for the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications at Texas Tech and the Moderator and Outreach Director for the TAWC.
“One of the purposeful tasks from the origination of the project was to have outreach and education,” Ritz said. “In this department by default, we know how outreach and education plays that role with the rest of the team.”
The entire TAWC program is based around outreach and education. The program was originally created to inform producers how to adopt innovation and use that innovation for water management. As the program has grown, it has started reaching the consumers as well.
Six years ago, the TAWC held a four week conference for 25 producers who showed interest in new technologies for water conservation. At the end of the third week the producers asked if they could go a fifth week, because they were not going to cover all the information they had originally planned.
Once the conference was over, the TAWC realized producers wanted to continue to grow their knowledge more about new technologies for water conservation. The problem, at the time, was the producers did not have anywhere to go to for the information.
“We have people in academia that don’t really have the opportunity to interact with growers,” Kellison said, “and we have growers that have specific needs that they don’t really know where to go to in academia to get those questions answered.”
The TAWC’s outreach efforts originally started out by having two field days and a field walk. After the five week conference with those 25 producers concluded, the TAWC decided to add an additional outreach program called the TAWC Water College. An annual conference held in Lubbock, Texas every January to help reach more producers and consumers.
“I can stack up a great set of presenters that are all academic, but with that, the growers like to have other growers that have got skin in the game like they do,” Kellison said. “So if we have growers present and team that up with a scientist to explain the science that is behind a particular technology, it may end in a more positive result.”
Ritz said that the water college has outgrown its original roots. The first year, the water college was held at the Bayer Museum of Science with about 80 attendees. Now the conference is held at the City Bank Coliseum to ensure there is enough room for the over 250 attendees.
With the help of the Water College, the TAWCs idea of outreach and education for producers has grown, and hopefully will continue to grow.
“Hopefully, in the next 10 years we can continue to move forward with the project, Ritz said, “Personally, I want to continue to see the project grow. “There are always going to be those that need to learn more about the importance of agriculture and the need of water for production.”